ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

December 1999


Back To The Future In 2000

Purpose, Planning And Preparing

Get In Touch With Your Emotions

No Gimmicks. No Frills. Just The Facts

Ritz-Carlton Again


What A Differnce A Space Makes
by Peter Block


Brief Cases

Diary of a Shutdown

Views for a Change



No Gimmicks. No Frills. Just The Facts
Strengthening, Empowering and Building Trust in Employees by Teaching Them the Business

Could employees at your business answer these questions: What is your company’s budget for the year? Are you currently above or below that budget? What is your department’s budget? What is the number one customer service issue or opportunity facing your company or your department?

In many traditional organizations, such questions would be met by blank stares or shrugs, or perhaps a comment that, “It’s management’s job to focus on such issues.” Debra Boggan and her consulting group, Competitive Solutions Inc. based in Nashville, Tenn., are trying to change that by helping organizations and their employees develop an orientation focused on the bottom line.

Her common sense approach avoids gimmicks. “As a general manager,” she recalls from her career with Northern Telecom, “I got so tired of the bureaucracy in corporations and the corporate initiatives that came down to say, ‘We’ll do this team thing, this quality circle, do this project team-thing.’ You know, we would do it for six months and then it’d go away.”
That made it hard, she says, to motivate employees to participate on any project teams. In 1988, she and some of her fellow managers decided to grab the process by the scruff of the neck and do things right.

“We said, ‘What if we teach our employees about the business?’ If you don’t know about the business, how can you make appropriate decisions at the appropriate level?” Boggan and her colleagues made it work.

Knowing the Who, What, Why and How
Boggan’s approach emphasizes “process, process, process.” She says empowerment derives from a distinction between the responsibilities of leaders and the workforce. “Leaders provide the ‘what’ and the ‘why,’ and the parameters,” she stresses. “We ask our organizations, our teams, our groups for the ‘how.’”

Management knows what is needed to make the organization succeed. “And we have messed with people’s minds by saying, ‘Please decide your quality goal.’ A team might say 86 percent. We tell them, ‘Wrong! It needs to be 92 percent.’ Now this team is thinking, ‘Why would you ask if you already knew the answer?’” Boggan explains, “If you know what the goals need to be, give it to them. Then ask them HOW they can make that goal.”
When companies survey their employees, they often hear, “Leaders, please give us some direction. And then let us go do the job.” When Boggan became a manager, she heard that managers dictate something every seven minutes. She didn’t believe it until she monitored her own behavior. “I was giving a dictate every three minutes! Telling somebody how to do his or her job. It’s inbred in most managers.”

She adds, “Employees who are provided with clear, documented expectations (the “what” and the “why”) and the means to perform their tasks effectively (the license to figure out “how”), are more likely to meet and exceed business objectives than those who are unempowered.”

Boggan follows a simple path when she consults with organizations. She uses existing groups, usually functionally defined—such as a department head and the employees in that area. She builds trust within these natural work groups by creating a business score card that clearly states four or five key business objectives. Each team member has his or her own copy.

Once those objectives are defined, it’s relatively easy to build trust. “You either do it or you don’t,” Boggan says matter-of-factly. “The plan is a tool to help you do what you said you were going to do.” She also uses an action register for individuals and groups, providing more detail. “This is a non-negotiable,” she says, meaning everyone has the same tools and information. “You have now put in place a tool that will help you start building trust.”
Boggan uses this concept of “non-negotiables” to strengthen organizations. These are minimal guidelines that all teams or groups must have, regardless of functional level. She explains, “Groups write their specifications or their process around these non-negotiables. Then you go back after it’s written down, go out and implement it. Then you can come back and audit it and see whether they’re doing it.”

The result of non-negotiables is that leaders can manage by process, instead of personality. “Adherence to non-negotiable processes,” Boggan says, “leads to reduced personality conflict, reduced favoritism and management’s ability to lead by example, a crucial component of effective leadership.”

One non-negotiable is that every team or group needs to understand its business objectives and how they support the organization’s overall goals. These objectives usually vary from group to group, but each group member is expected to know what the group is responsible for achieving—and to have a plan to get back on track if they go off track.
Other non-negotiables include team-building processes, meeting guidelines (such as standard agendas and regularly scheduled meetings), decision-making and problem-solving processes, role definitions for leaders and employees, recognition processes and so on. Team members each get a handbook defining these non-negotiables so they know where they fit in and what’s expected.

Boggan had a successful experience with Harley-Davidson in Kansas City, Mo. “They were moving to a new facility and wanted to start with a clean slate,” she says. A cross-functional group consisting of hourly, unionized employees and management selected Competitive Solutions. “They wanted to know what was absolutely required to get this facility up and running in a short amount of time.”
Boggan advanced her practical approach, in a step-by-step process. “The first thing we looked at was their meeting process. We also looked at their business focus processes. What are the key business objectives? Who’s going to track those objectives?” And so on.
They also considered, “What are we going to do if we’re not meeting target? We’re going to create an action plan to tell us what to do in teams to be sure that we get back to target.
“It was an extremely successful introduction,” she says. “We helped them establish their business focus, which included the business score cards and the action registers. We helped them with their meeting structures. The sole purpose of calling people together was to focus on the business and what they were doing to drive business improvement.”

Do As I Do: Teaching Managers to Lead

Boggan avoids providing external facilitation, which often neuters an organization’s leaders. Instead, she trains the senior management team to be facilitators. “Often they haven’t been given enough or the appropriate leadership processes to be able to be a good leader. (In too many organizations) we’ve taught people how to manage,” she reflects, “but we haven’t shown them how to lead.”

Boggan’s concepts only work when there is a complete sense of buy-in by the organization’s management team. “The only way you can overcome a difficult environment,” she says, recalling a company where downsizing created significant employee skepticism, “is the senior-most leadership at that facility has got to do exactly everything that they’re asking all the employees to be doing.”

Boggan cites a piece of wisdom proposed to her recently, “There is nothing but common sense that is not common in the way we run our businesses today.” If she has her way in the future, however, that common sense will find its way down to every employee, who will actively participate in the success of the organization.

December '99 News for a Change | E-mail Editor
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